Category Archives: Field Trip

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Have Some Shadowy Fun on Groundhog Day

Update: Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow today, which predicts an early spring.

Groundhog Day, February 2, has basically everything going for it that I love in a holiday – It marks a point in a season; it’s full of folklore and wisdom, superstition, ceremony, civic charm, science, mystery, agrarian history, and weather – and it was featured in perhaps my all-time favorite movie of the same name, which itself is a study in acceptance and inner calm while being outright hilarious in nearly every frame.

Altogether now: It’s Groundhog Day!

In an early morning ceremony, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil will rise from his heated burrow at Gobbler’s Knob, PA, as he has for 128 years, and signal to his handlers whether or not he sees his shadow. No shadow means an early end to winter. And if the groundhog does see his shadow? Six more long weeks of the season. Over the past years that the ceremony has taken place, Phil has seen his shadow 102 times and not seen it only 17. (Records don’t exist for every year.) In 2008, the crowd heartily booed the prospect of “six more weeks of winter”, as I suspect they would do this year, as well, should Phil call for even more chilly weather.

Some have stated that Phil’s “handlers” make the prediction for him. What do we think of that?

History and science of Groundhog Day

According to this excellent Groundhog Day site, German settlers arrived in the 1700s in the area of Pennsylvania, northeast of Pittsburgh, which had been previously settled by the Delaware Native Americans. The Germans celebrated Candlemas Day, originally a Medieval Catholic holiday to mark the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The holiday also has roots in Celtic-Gaelic and Pagan cultures, where it is celebrated as St. Brigid’s Day and Imbolc, and is a time of festivals, feasting, parades, and weather prediction, as well as candles and even bonfires to mark the sun’s return.

According to Wikipedia, the origin of the word “Imbolc” is “in the belly”, and among agrarian people, Imbolc was associated with the onset of lactation of ewes, which would soon give birth to lambs in the spring.

The German settlers of Pennsylvania put candles in their windows and believed that if the weather was fair on Candlemas Day, then the second half of winter would be stormy and cold. While this has always seemed counter-intuitive to me, this site explains the science of Groundhog Day and that cloudy weather is actually more mild than clear and cold. It makes sense, then, that the shadow would portend six more weeks of winter. (A lifelong mystery is solved.)

These are some really weather activities to help kids understand about temperature, air pressure, wind and much more.

Do groundhogs really emerge from their burrows to see their shadows? Yes, and no. Male groundhogs actually emerge in search of females, who have emerged just prior. Once the female is sighted, the male groundhog actually goes back into his underground man-cave to wait out the cold weather, confident that a female is near.

The English and Scottish had wonderful sayings to mark this occasion:

The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.

— Scottish saying
(Note the serpent instead of the groundhog.)

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

— English saying

Punxsutawney’s first Groundhog Day celebration was in 1886, and though other towns, particularly in the eastern U.S., have Groundhog Day ceremonies – Staten Island Chuck, anyone? – none is nearly as famous as Punxsutawney’s. Some of this may lie with the groundhog’s official name, “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary”. Still more popularity, and tourists, have come as a result of the movie Groundhog Day. The first official Groundhog Day prediction in Punxsutawney? No shadow – early Spring.

This site has more information about the groundhog itself and about the filming of the movie.

If you are a Groundhog Day movie obsessive like me, you will enjoy this site that breaks down exactly how long Bill Murray’s character, Phil the Weatherman, experiences Groundhog Day in Gobbler’s Knob.

Groundhog activities and crafts

It’s fun to play with shadows, in honor of Punxsutawney Phil and his. Try making hand shadow puppets, something people have been doing since 2,000 years ago in China, where it was performed by oil-lamp light. Have someone project a flashlight onto a wall or other surface. Hold your hands between the light and the wall in various shapes to create shadow puppets. Here are some classic ones to try:

Rabbit—Make a fist with one hand. Place the other palm over it and make a peace sign (for ears) with two fingers.

Hawk—Link your thumbs together, with your hands facing away from you. Stretch out your fingers and hands and flutter them like wings.

Spider—With palms facing up, cross your hands at the wrist. Press your thumbs together to form the spider’s head. Wiggle your fingers in a climbing motion.

Wolf or dog—Place your palms together, fingers facing outward. Put your thumbs up to form ears. Let your pinkie drop to form a mouth. Bend your index fingers to create a forehead.

Camel—Lift one arm. Hold your hand in a loosely curved position. Hold the pinkie and ring finger together. Hold the other two fingers together, thumb pressed in. Curve both sets of fingers and hold them wide apart to form a mouth. Your arm, from the elbow up, will be the camel’s neck.

There are also a lot of very appealing shadow and groundhog crafts for Groundhog Day, like the one below from Mrs. Ricca’s Kindergarten and a great round-up of others from Motherhood on a Dime.

Shadow or no, here’s wishing you a happy remainder of the winter, a ceremony or two, a dash of lore and wonder, and a fruitful spring.

Images: Aaron Silvers, Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Mrs. Ricca’s Kindergarten, Creative Commons

Shadow puppets adapted from FED UP WITH FRENZY: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ fun family activities.

Happy Chinese New Year: Celebrate the Year of the Monkey with Crafts, Recipes and Fun

Chinese New Year is celebrated on February 8th this year, and marks the beginning of the Chinese year 4714. The Chinese calendar is based on the lunar calendar, with the new year beginning on the darkest day of the month. New years celebrations often go as many as two weeks, until the next full moon. And a celebratory holiday it is, with red decorations, good-luck gifts of oranges and money, parades with dragon dances and firecrackers, and special foods.

Learn about Chinese Lunar New Year parades in San Francisco, Chicago and New York, as well as Chinese New Year activities around the world.

This year is the Year of the Monkey. See a Chinese zodiac calendar.  Try one of these fun Chinese New Year activities:

Fingerprint Monkey Card from Crafty Morning


Year of the Monkey Papercut Printable from Craft Kids


Chinese Good Luck Ornament from Sand in My Toes


Paper dragon from Teach Kids Art

chinese new year dragon

Paper Plate drums from Crafts and Art for Children

chinese new year craft

Kid-friendly Honey Prawns from Kidspot


Homemade fortune cookies from The Spiffy Cookie

fortune cookie recipe

Felt fortune cookies from Martha Stewart

fortune cookie craft

Fruit roll-up fortune cookies from Recipe by Photo

fortune cookie project

Noisemakers from Slow Family Online

new years noisemaker

Make these easy paper lanterns

This is probably the classic Chinese New Year craft. It’s easy and satisfying. I made these as a kid and, of course, with my daughter.

You’ll need:

  1. Construction paper
  2. Scissors
  3. Tape
  4. Glitter or other decorations, as desired.

Fold a piece of paper in half length-wise.

Beginning at the fold, cut out approx. 4 very skinny triangles that go halfway up the folded section of paper.

Unfold the paper and curl together so that the two shortest ends of the paper meet and the cuts run vertically. (The cuts should now each result in a “diamond” shape.)

chinese lantern craft

The paper lantern activity is adapted from  Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ activities for family fun.


Lantern photo:

Celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year and other Midwinter Holidays with Kids

Around the world, people who live in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. In countries that use lunar calendars to determine festival days (many of which are in Asia and the Middle East), this signals the beginning of the new year and the first stirrings of spring.

There are lots of ways to honor and celebrate various midwinter traditions that are delightful, educational and bring families together.


The Chinese Lunar New Year begins on February 8th this year, and marks the beginning of the Chinese year 4714. The Chinese Lunar New Year traditionally begins at the first new moon after January 21st. Each year is said to be represented by one of 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac. This coming year is the Year of the Monkey.

San Francisco is host to the largest Chinese New Year Parade outside Asia and one of the few illuminated nighttime parades in the world. The parade, Feb. 20th this year, dates back to 1860 and features more than 100 groups, including extravagant lion dancers and a 200-foot-long Golden Dragon. San Francisco’s Chinatown offers numerous other free events and activities throughout the two-week New Years celebration, such as lion dance exhibits, and craft activities like making lucky red envelopes, at city libraries.

In New York City, the New York City Chinese New Year Parade and Festival takes place Feb. 14th this year, and winds through the streets of Little Italy and Chinatown. There’s also a Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival on Feb. 10th, with drumming, dancing, and more than 600,000 firecrackers, the noise of which is said to ring out the evil spirits of the old year and ease what many viewed as a vulnerable transition between years. Read more about the tradition of greeting the new year with noise and how to make your own noisemakers.

In Chicago? Attend the Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade in their vibrant Chinatown and experience marching bands, floats, lion dancers and a dragon dance, on Feb. 14th.

Here are some great photos of Chinese New Year celebrations around the world.

There are many crafts you can make at home to celebrate the Chinese  New Year. Try making a paper dragon, Chinese noisemakers, or Monkey paper cutouts, or baking your own fortune cookies. (If you’re in San Francisco, be sure to visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, to see how the pros bake and fold the famous cookies.)

Here are more Chinese New Year crafts and recipes.


The Jewish holiday Tu B’Shevat, which occurs in mid-winter in the Northern Hemisphere (sundown, January 24th, this year) is known as the New Year of the Trees and, in some circles, the Jewish Earth Day. Its date coincides with the earliest blooming trees in Israel and it is celebrated by planting trees and plants and by eating tree fruits and nuts. For our family, celebrating Tu B’Shevat represents a way to honor the turning of the year, welcome the promise of spring and new life, and recommit to caring for the nature around us.

Looking for a meaningful way to celebrate Tu B’Shevat? Consider planting a tree or seeds, or choosing a natural area to steward by weeding or picking up trash. Take a nature walk and observe what you see, or make a homemade bird feeder, so you can help the birds at a point in winter when much of their food supply has diminished.

Here are lots more traditions, blessings and activities to celebrate the New Year of the Trees.


In the U.S., Groundhog Day, February 2nd, is a well-known midwinter holiday, in which it is said that a groundhog rises from his underground burrow to predict a long or short winter, based on whether or not he produces a shadow. The holiday has its roots in Candlemas Day, originally a Medieval Catholic holiday to mark the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. (The Celtic-Gaelic St. Brigid’s Day, a time of festivals, feasting and parades, which is still celebrated widely in Ireland, is another precursor to Groundhog Day. As is Imbolc, which means “in the belly”, and is associated with the onset of lactation of ewes, which would give birth in the spring.)

Pennsylvania’s German settlers believed that if the weather was fair on Candlemas Day (causing the groundhog to see his shadow), then the second half of winter would be stormy and cold, producing “six more weeks of winter.” This site explains the science of Groundhog Day and the fact that cloudy weather is actually milder than clear, cold weather. Groundhog Day was first celebrated in the U.S. in 1886 and featured a groundhog named “Punxsutawney Phil”, the same name of the groundhog that makes predictions today.

To celebrate Groundhog Day, try making hand shadow puppets, having a friend trace your shadow, or enjoying one of these shadow-themed activities or weather experiments.

Here is a lot more science, lore, activities and fun for Groundhog Day.


Japanese people celebrate Setsubun (Feb. 3rd this year), traditionally the beginning of spring, with a bean-throwing ceremony called Mame-maki. Beans are thrown indoors and then outside, as people shout, Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Out with the devil! In with fortune!”), to drive away the evil spirits, a tradition that is a carry-over from mame-maki’s origins as a New Year’s ritual. Sometimes fathers dress up as the oni (devil). It’s considered good luck to eat the number of beans as your age.

You may want to do some Setsubun crafts.

Enjoy your celebration of midwinter. Hopefully it won’t feel like too long a wait until spring.

Photos: Wikimedia (Chinese New Year Parade in Melbourne, Setsubun celebration in Kobe), Susan Sachs Lipman, Creative Commons (Groundhog)

Experience the Magic of the Holidays in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 2

The San Francisco Bay Area is a special place throughout the year, and no time more so than at holiday time. But, let’s face it­–when the holidays get crazy, stress levels tend to get high.

Fortunately, there are many ways to take a step back and appreciate the #EveryDayMoments that make the holidays so special.

There’s a holiday activity for every budget. From live reindeer to lighted trains, something magical is probably happening somewhere in December around the Bay.


Public Destinations and Events

My family loves San Francisco’s Union Square at holiday time. Enjoy the lighted tree in the square, outdoor ice skating at the Union Square Ice Rink, decorated store windows at Macy’s, photos with Santa at the Westfield Shopping Center, the 12-foot-high Enchanted Sugar Castle at the St. Francis Hotel, a cable car ride, and assorted other only-in-San Francisco attractions.

Did you know that reindeer antlers are among the fastest growing bones? Take in the science behind the season at California Academy of Sciences’ exhibit, Tis the Season for Science. Meet live reindeer and learn how they adapt to harsh Arctic winters, see how snowflakes form inside the interactive Snowflake Theater, and enjoy exploring holiday-themed and other exhibits.

Hometown Holidays in Redwood City offers an extravaganza featuring a parade, Santa, ice sculptures, entertainment, a special effects light show, and a visit from the CalTrain Holiday Train, December 5.

Benicia’s charming Main Street hosts Santa and others at the Benicia Christmas Parade and Holiday Market, December 12.

Holiday on the Farm at Forest Home Farms in San Ramon features old-fashioned holiday activities and entertainment and a visit from Victorian Santa and his reindeer, December 12. (Enjoy other programs, such as Candy Cane History and crafts and a Nature’s Decorations scavenger hunt, December 5 and 19.)

Ring in the New Year at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum by taking a turn at striking the 2,100-pound, 16th-century Japanese temple bell. The reverend-led event includes a ceremony and the bell-ringing, to leave behind last year’s regrets and bad luck, December 31.

Little ones will enjoy Noon Year’s Eve at the Bay Area Discovery Museum. Dance outdoors, make a crown, and watch the ball drop on Festival Plaza, December 31.


San Francisco’s railway cars hail from all over the world.

Holiday Performances

Cities and hamlets all around the Bay Area offer plenty of options for holiday entertainment.

Traditionalists will want to head to San Francisco Ballet’s The Nutcracker, which made its debut on Christmas Eve, 1944. The Velveteen Rabbit,  ODC/Dance Company’s colorful and long-running holiday adaptation of Margery Williams’ classic children’s book about a beloved nursery rabbit that becomes real, plays at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. San Francisco Symphony offers multiple musical holiday shows, including Peter and the Wolf and A Charlie Brown Christmas–Live.

There are more than two dozen performances of The Nutcracker all around the Bay Area. The above link shares those, in addition to multiple holiday performances, Santa visits and other fun holiday happenings around the Bay.


Gingerbread House Displays

Gingerbread houses are another wonderful holiday tradition, dating back more than 1,000 years of gingerbread history to a time when gingerbread was used to make religious creations. We’ve made some fun DIY gingerbread houses over the years (orange peel satellite dish, anyone?) and for inspiration, there’s nothing like the beautiful and astounding displays created by the pastry chefs at some of San Francisco’s finest hotels.

The Fairmont San Francisco Gingerbread House must be seen to be believed. The two-story (!) house is than 22 feet high and 23 feet wide and features thousands of gingerbread bricks. The Fairmont Hotel is also beautifully decorated, with lit trees and a model railroad. While there, enjoy the Fairmont’s Gingerbread Holiday Tea.

Gingerbread enthusiasts won’t want to miss the St. Francis Enchanted Sugar Castle at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Each item on the 12-foot-high replica of a medieval French castle and village is intricately handcrafted through sugar art techniques. Begun in 2005, the castle gets larger and more detailed each year.

The Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco showcases a large and imaginative gingerbread holiday village. Have fun exploring all around it before or after tea (above), or simply by popping into the lobby.

Berkeley’s Claremont Hotel Gingerbread House is an extensive replica of the Gold Rush-era hotel.

Join the Gingerbread House Competition and Tour in Sausalito. Pick up a map, hunt for decorated houses, at local businesses, and vote for your favorites in this delightful town tradition.


Holiday Teas

One of my family’s favorite traditions is holiday high tea. We love dressing up and going to a city hotel that’s beautifully decorated to enjoy exquisite sandwiches and desserts. San Francisco’s Sheraton Palace Hotel offers a holiday tea in its beautiful Victorian Garden Court that features delightful children’s sandwiches, as well as crowns and scepters for small visitors and Santa Visits on Mondays. While you’re there, visit the hotel’s beautiful decorated trees and the large and delightful gingerbread village in the lobby. Here are lots of other terrific San Francisco holiday teas.


Still seeking more holiday lights, sights and decorations? See these from San Francisco Travel Magazine.

Read Experience the Magic of the Holidays in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 1: Holiday Light Displays, Parades and Ice Skating.

Between all the holiday entertaining and buying gifts, your wallet definitely feels the pinch. On the upside, if you use the right credit card, you can earn rewards points to get something back for all that spending. I use the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, which earns Membership Rewards points for every dollar I spend –and for no annual fee.

Plus it bonuses you 20% extra Membership Rewards points after making 20 or more purchases in a billing period. That’s music to my ears at holiday time!

Enjoy your magical San Francisco holiday!

This post was sponsored by the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, which rewards multi-tasking parents so we can take a step back and appreciate the #EveryDayMoments that make the holidays so special.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman, Fairmont Hotel

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

Winter Inspiration: Photos and Poetry

Make this a Slow, Joyful Holiday Season

Mill Valley’s Life-Size Gingerbread House




Experience the Magic of the Holidays in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 1

I never fail to find the holiday season completely magical, and revel in the fact that the San Francisco Bay Area offers so many opportunities for families and others to experience that magic. Many of my family’s warmest memories are holiday memories–and many of those are low-cost or free, offering experiences as an antidote or addition to gifts and holiday shopping.


The best things in life are often free–like family time decorating for the holidays, setting the dinner table, making cookies for holiday guests, or enjoying the Bay Area’s special light and other displays. We cherish these holiday #EveryDayMoments that add up to profound memories and traditions.

Holiday Light Displays

Winter holidays call for glorious lights brightening the long nights, just as candles and bonfires did for centuries before the invention of Christmas lights. Here are some of the best Bay Area light displays.

Residential Neighborhoods

The San Francisco Peninsula is a hotbed of holiday light activity. Whole neighborhoods get into the spirit, with holiday characters, musically synchronized lights and more on Eucalyptus Avenue in San Carlos, Fulton Avenue in Palo Alto, and Dewey Street in Redwood City, among other individual spectacular houses.

Marin County is home to some fabulous light displays, including the Rombeiro House, a 25-year tradition, which features stunning holiday decorations, outside the home as well as in multiple rooms inside! The Rombeiros graciously and cheerily greet all visitors throughout the season. See my walk-through of the Rombeiro House and learn about other great Marin County light displays. A horse-drawn Holiday Light carriage ride through Novato features the Rombeiro and other decorated homes.


In the East Bay, Widmer World in Pleasanton has been going, and growing, since 1980. Widmer World, a home Santa visits, will be featured on The Great Christmas Light Fight in December. While you’re in the area, check out the other “must see” houses in Pleasanton and Livermore, according to California Christmas Lights, or take in the glow of Thompson Street in Alameda.

A traditional holiday highlight in San Francisco is the Tom and Jerry Christmas Tree in Noe Valley, which features a 65-foot decorated tree and Santa visits. The Chestnut Christmas Lit Houses in South San Francisco are another fan favorite.

California Christmas Lights is a fantastic resource for holiday light displays all around California. Search by county and city, or narrow your search to “must see” houses or houses that have been verified for 2015, and then create a driving map to view your picks.

Not in the San Francisco Bay Area? This is a terrific resource for the best Christmas lights around the U.S.


Public Destinations

San Francisco Zoo Lights offers reindeer visits, nightly shows, and rides on the Little Puffer steam train. Don’t forget to bundle up–rumor has it there are snow flurries, too.

Oakland ZooLights features a Candy Cane Lane with themed rides, a light show, and rides on the Outback Express train, which will be lit up with thousands of lights.

At Gilroy Gardens, the sweet nature-themed park dons thousands of holiday lights to become a winter wonderland, featuring multiple holiday shows and attractions, including a Candy Cane Lane and a laser light show over Coyote Lake.

Want to enjoy lights on an urbane shopping street? San Francisco’s Union Street hosts a Festival of Lights Celebration December 5th, in addition to a week-long elf hunt, and lighted decorations all season.


Enjoy these other lighted trees and menorahs around the Bay Area, including festive Union and Ghirardelli Squares.

Take a ride on one of these other Bay Area lighted holiday trains.

This is a great list of tree lightings and holiday light events in San Francisco and Marin County.


Lighted Parades

Whether on land or sea, by vehicle or foot, holiday light parades are especially delightful–and usually free! Bundle up, grab a mug of hot cocoa, and enjoy one of the Bay Area’s upcoming light parades.

Lighted yachts will sail in the 39th annual Alameda Lighted Yacht Parade, December 5.

The Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting in Morgan Hill features an indoor show and a visit from Santa’s magic ship, December 5.

At San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, you can see the sights, including the lighted trees at Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square, and then enjoy the San Francisco Lighted Boat Parade, the largest lighted holiday boat parade on San Francisco Bay, with more than 75 boats, December 11.

Sausalito’s waterfront is home to the Sausalito Lighted Boat Parade, featuring fireworks and more than 40 decorated boats, December 12.

The Parol Lantern Festival and Parade, hosted by San Francisco’s Filipino-American Development Foundation, starts at Yerba Buena Gardens and features lighted parol lanterns, the Filipino symbol of hope, blessings, luck, peace, and light, December 12.

The San Rafael Lighted Boat Parade lights up the San Rafael Canal with cheery decorated boats from four local yacht clubs, December 19.


Holiday Ice Skating

Ice skating is particularly delightful at holiday time, when some of the Bay Area’s public parks and workaday spaces transform for the season. Perfect your double salchows and triple toe loops at these frosty spots. Check the web sites for schedules, fees and details.

A 25+ year tradition, Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center in San Francisco provides a large outdoor rink conveniently located near the Ferry Building. After skating, hop on a cable car and head to Chinatown or Fisherman’s Wharf. Or let San Francisco’s Union Square Ice Rink be the center of a fun holiday outing. See various Union Square activities, above.


In the East Bay, The Little Ice Rink is a sweet rink at Alameda’s South Shore Center. Popular Walnut Creek on Ice is back for a festive run in a smaller, festively decorated rink. New kid on the block, Downtown Holiday Ice in Martinez, offers lessons on Saturdays.

San José’s Downtown Ice boasts the South Bay’s largest outdoor rink, which is ringed by lighted palm trees. Head to San Mateo’s Central Park for the large San Mateo on Ice rink. Families will especially enjoy Winter Lodge in Palo Alto, a small three-season rink (September – April) that is perfect for beginners.

In the North Bay, Marin on Ice in San Rafael features a large outdoor rink next to the Northgate Mall.


The Bay Area is home to some beautiful year-round indoor rinks, too. Redwood Empire Ice Arena, or Snoopy’s Home Ice, in Santa Rosa, is a gorgeous Swiss-chalet style rink that was built by cartoonist Charles Schulz in 1969. While you’re there, visit the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Snoopy’s Gift Shop. Oakland Ice Center and Sharks Ice at San José offer large, well-equipped rinks. Still more skating can be found at Yerba Buena Ice Skating and Bowling Center (conveniently located by the Children’s Creativity Museum).

Still seeking more holiday lights, sights and decorations? See these from San Francisco Travel Magazine.

Read: Experience the Magic of the Holidays in the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 2: Holiday Events, Performances, Gingerbread Houses and Teas.


Between holiday experiences and entertaining, and buying gifts, your wallet definitely feels the pinch. On the upside, if you use the right credit card, you can earn rewards points to get something back for all that spending. I use the the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, which earns Membership Rewards points for every dollar I spend –and for no annual fee. That will really help when enjoying our #EverydayMoments now and next year.

Enjoy your magical San Francisco holiday!

This post was sponsored by the Amex EveryDay Credit Card, which rewards multi-tasking parents so we can take a step back and appreciate the #EveryDayMoments that make the holidays so special.

 Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

Winter Inspiration: Photos and Poetry

Make this a Slow, Joyful Holiday Season

Mill Valley’s Life-Size Gingerbread House







The Secret Lives of Animals: Book Review

On the heels of their highly successful and informative books, The Truth About Nature and The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book, authors Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer are back with another delightful and fact-filled book that illuminates nature, The Secret Lives of Animals: 1,001 Tidbits, Oddities & Amazing Facts about North America’s Coolest Animals. Also returning for the third book is talented illustrator Rachel Riordan.


Like their other titles, The Secret Lives of Animals is colorful, easy to use, and appealing from start to finish. Animals are helpfully grouped by category, and each gets its moment in the sun, with illustrations, details and little-known facts.

Kids who are curious about animals will learn a lot about their favorites, as well as some creatures they’ve never heard of. Those who want to get outside to experience animals directly will find plenty of ideas. There is also terrific general science information to help explain concepts like migrations, taxonomies, the continental shelf, anadromous fish (I had never heard that term either), metamorphosis, keystone species, and how to tell a horn from an antler.

Inspired by the book, my family and I returned to some of our favorite activities, like crabbing, tidepooling, and making a bird feeder to attract and feed and local birds. We also took a walk to identify squirrel nests, looked at a spider web with a magnifying glass, and listened for animal sounds at night.



In addition, we learned a lot of fun facts about our animal friends and devised a quiz based on the tidbits in the book. See how well you do! (answers below.)

               Secret Lives of Animals Unofficial Quiz

  1. How do prairie dogs help their local grass?
  2. Are caribou and reindeer the same species?
  3. Do sockeye salmon change color after they spawn?
  4. What are baby mice sometimes called?
  5. Which animal dates back more than 300 million years and had a wingspan of up to 2 feet?
  6. Can you tell how old a rattlesnake is by counting the number of rattles?
  7. The Giant Pacific species of what animal weighs more than 600 pounds?
  8. How many species of fly are there?
  9. Can a sponge grow to be bigger than a human?
  10. What animal did Benjamin Franklin propose as America’s national bird, rather than the Bald Eagle?

                Quiz Answers

  1. They keep it trimmed.
  2. Yes.
  3. Yes.
  4. Pinkies.
  5. Dragonfly.
  6. No.
  7. Giant Octopus.
  8. 150,000.
  9. Yes.
  10. Turkey.

If you enjoyed playing along, you will enjoy The Secret Lives of Animals! I have one copy to give away. To enter, leave a comment below, listing either your favorite animal or one you want to learn more about. I’ll choose a winner using a random generator by Midnight, PST, Weds, Nov. 4. The winner will be notified by email.

Family Fun at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Part 2


In celebration of summer’s wonderful #EverydayMoments and the National Park Service Centennial Year, which begins August 25th, we decided to spend some time this summer in the beautiful Golden National Recreation Area, one of the largest urban parks in the world at more than 80,000 acres, and home to some of the National Park Service’s most beloved spots, such as Muir Woods National Monument, Point Reyes National Seashore (above), and the San Francisco Presidio.

After spending a full day at San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park and Fisherman’s Wharf (see Part 1), we visited the Point Bonita Lighthouse.

Like Maritime Park, the Marin Headlands, home of the lighthouse, is another large parcel within GGNRA. We began our journey at the Visitor Center, where interactive exhibits showed aspects of the Headlands’ natural and human history. In the 1970s, the Headlands were saved from a massive housing development to become public land for all to enjoy. We listened to recorded stories in a Coast Miwok dwelling, explored the bones of animals, sniffed the aromas of various native plants and read early lighthouse keepers’ diaries.



The rangers helped us identify some great hikes. We chose a short trail through a tunnel and out to the lighthouse (check the web site for limited lighthouse hours.) Our walk offered beautiful vistas of the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay, where we saw seagulls and other birds and heard, but didn’t see, harbor seals and other sea creatures.






We learned a lot about lighthouse history from our knowledgeable ranger, Jim. Built in 1855, Point Bonita Lighthouse was the third lighthouse built on the west coast and the last to be manned, rather than to run on electricity. Each lighthouse and foghorn up and down the coast operates on a different pattern to help sailors navigate San Francisco’s treacherous waters. We learned about various shipwrecks (one of which is the namesake for GGNRA’s Tennessee Valley) and lighthouse operations and equipment. We listened to more great information through a cell phone system that GGNRA uses in many of its parks. Afterward we visited the pre-WWI Battery Mendell, one of the area’s military forts and saw the foundation for the old lighthouse keeper’s house around the bend of the bay (last photo, below).







Family Activities

GGNRA offers lots of great family activities throughout the year at many of its sites. Our interest piqued about the park, we decided to join Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy for a morning of crabbing at Fort Baker Pier. We were greeted by our ranger, Al, who quickly showed us how easy it is to toss a crab basket, frisbee-style and containing a pouch with raw chicken for bait, into the bay.


We learned about the various species of crabs in San Francisco Bay. These include Dungeness crabs–which are popular for eating, but which we weren’t allowed to keep if caught; yellow crabs; rock crabs; red crabs and slender crabs. We learned about the markings on a crab’s belly, which is one good way to distinguish male crabs from female crabs. Below is a male, noted for the triangle shape on the belly.



Unlike fishing, there’s no tug on the line to alert you that you’ve caught a crab. Once you’ve lowered the net into the water, you just have to wait 10 minutes or more before checking to see if anything swam into your basket to take the bait.

After a time, I pulled up my basket. I had caught a crab! This was very exciting. I pulled it up to the pier. On closer inspection, the basket contained a large rock crab and a smaller red crab.


My crab was measured and deemed too large to keep. (There are a lot of other rules about types and sizes of crabs, and even genders, that can be kept. If you go crabbing independently, you’ll want to know the rules and obey posted signs.)


We explored our crabs a bit before tossing them back into the sea.




One of our new friends caught a fish.


Crabbing is a slow activity that provides a lot of delight (and perhaps dinner), as well as a chance to explore and learn a little more about the bay and its inhabitants. A couple of hours is plenty of time for crabbing. GGNRA offers crabbing at multiple locations. As a bonus, Fort Point is adjacent to a small beach that’s perfect for toddlers, and the Bay Area Discovery Museum, where you can continue to learn about crabs and fish (and even establish your own pretend fishery in the San Francisco Bay Room), as well as explore the many natural elements and exhibits that the award-winning hands-on museum has to offer.



Here are some other piers throughout California where you can go crabbing.


Road Trip Tips

If you’re traveling to visit a national park, there are ways to make your travel smoother and more delightful and memorable. Sometimes half the fun of family travel is “getting there”. Road trips have provided some of our family’s most treasured #EverydayMoments.

  • Involve kids in the planning or have them follow the trip’s progress on a map. If you’re an AAA member, maps are free. Some kids may want to keep a trip journal and add photos when they get home.
  • Have food and drinks on hand, if possible, and take frequent breaks to eat, use restrooms, or just stretch your bodies.
  • Remind children who are on screens to take breaks, to play a game or look around.
  • Pack along a few portable games for outdoor breaks and quiet times, such as cards, Mad Libs, a jump rope or jacks.
  • Play some of these tried-and-true road trip games that don’t require any equipment. They help make family memories when you’re driving, flying, or waiting in line.

Tried-and-True Road Trip Games

What I See From A to Z

Players try to find letters in license plates, billboards, road signs, or objects and must call out “I see an A,” or “I see something that starts with B,” when they spot a letter.

The first person to complete the alphabet wins. A variation for younger children is to pick one letter and have everyone look for that.

Semi Search

If you’re traveling on the interstate, you will probably have a lot of trucks for company, and this fun game makes use of that.

Each player chooses a different color. That color will be the color of truck trailer that the player is then searching for. Players announce when they see a semi on the road in their color, and they get one point for each.

A scorekeeper can be appointed to keep count, or everyone can keep their own score. The game is played until one person reaches 25 points, or another agreed-upon number.

Travel Scavenger Hunt (also known as Travel Olympics)

You’ll need: Pencil and paper for each player

Players all contribute to one list of 10-20 things they can see from or do in the car. For example, a list might include passing a cow pasture, seeing a gas station that has the color red in its logo, holding one’s breath through a tunnel, spotting two yellow license plates, or passing an RV.

The first person to accomplish everything on the list wins.

License Plate Scramble

The first player calls out all the letters, in order, that appear on a passing license plate.

All players try to create a word using those letters, in the same order. The first person to do so gets a point. For example, a player might call out ARN, and he, she, or any other player might come up with “arachnid” or “yarn”.

Decide if you want to play to a certain number of points, like 25. The first player to reach that total wins.


Players search passing cars for “out of state” license plates (out of the state they are currently traveling in.)

When such a plate is spotted, the player yells, “O.S.L.P.!” If they are the first to see a particular plate, they score a point.

Decide if you want to play to a certain number of points, like 10. The first player to reach that total wins.

What Animal Am I?

One player thinks of an animal. Other players ask “yes” or “no” questions to determine what animal the first player is. Players might ask, “Do you live in the ocean?” or “Do you have four legs?”

There is no limit to the number of questions. Players can simply give up when stumped and choose who gets to be the animal next. Otherwise, the player who guessed the animal gets to be the next up.


This is part of a larger American Express initiative that will help encourage volunteering in America’s National Parks.

On July 30th, Amex EveryDay kicked off a contest that encourages people to share a photo and caption of their own #EveryDayMoments, taken at any park, for a chance to win one of three trips to some spectacular National Parks: National Mall and Memorial Parks (Washington, DC), Yosemite National Park (California) and Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Click Here to Enter between July 30th and August 31st:; terms apply.


Be sure to see Family Fun at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Part 1.

I am an Amex EveryDay CardMember and Ambassador for this program. However, all opinions about the Card are my own.

Road trip activities are adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains more travel games in addition to 300+ fun family activities.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman and Wood for the Trees





Help National Park Trust Get More Kids to National Parks


What if you could give a child a national park experience for the price of a latté? You can! National Park Trust recently learned that their youth programs were selected as a National Park Service Centennial Challenge Project in honor of the National Park Service Centennial Year, which begins August 25, 2015. ​T​he National Park Service selected​ National Park Trust (NPT) for a one-to-one match of $450,000 that will result ​​in a total of $900,000 specifically designated for the expansion of their school programs (Buddy Bison Environmental Education Program and Kids to Parks Day National School Contest). As we approach the new school year, NPT is asking for our help to raise resources for the Buddy Bison School Program.


The Centennial Challenge will allow NPT to be able to work with up to 60 Title 1 schools to provide multiple park experiences — at least one to a national park unit — throughout the school year, plus classroom toolkits full of resources and so much more! ​Your $5 will become $10, which provides bus transportation for one child for one park trip. There are more than 400 national park units across the country!

For just $5, you can be part of a grassroots movement and help children have a park experience who wouldn’t otherwise have one. Click to Donate to NPT’s Centennial Challenge.


My family loves the U.S. National Parks. We have visited many and are fortunate to live near the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which at more than 80,000 acres, is one of the largest urban parks in the world and the most-visited park in the U.S. National Park system. Rather than one park, it’s a group of parks spanning three counties. It includes five lighthouses, a famous prison, numerous museums and visitor centers, 91 miles of shoreline, 1,287 plant and animal species in 19 separate ecosystems, and 370 archeological sites that reveal the area’s history from the Native Americans through the Gold Rush and the present day.



Read about our recent trip to Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the highlight of which was San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. Like many national park units, Maritime Park features more history and science than nature, with historic ships, hands-on activities and elaborate displays.


While we’ve hiked and biked in stunning national parks, such as Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Crater Lake and Acadia National Park (above), we’ve also discovered that some of the lesser known national park units (which include seashores, museums and monuments) provide fascination for kids who are interested in the outdoors, and also in history, anthropology, sociology, botany, earth science, literature and art. The great thing about our national parks is that they allow people to enter them through all different interests and enjoy them in many different ways.

More and more children are discovering our national parks, thanks to the National Park Service’s promotion of its Centennial Year and the National Park Trust’s work through their school programs. One more thing to celebrate? The National Park Service Centennial Year coincides with President Obama’s Every Kid in a Park Initiative, which will allow every 4th grader in the U.S., and their families to have a park experience during the 2015-16 school year. (The above link explains the program’s logistics.)


National Park Trust is the nation’s only non-profit dedicated to supporting America’s parks through both land acquisition and preservation and youth education programs and initiatives that connect children with their local, state and national parks. I’m thrilled to help spread the word about their Centennial Challenge and hope you’ll join me in supporting them.


I was invited by National Park Trust to participate in their Centennial Challenge Campaign, however the views expressed are my own.

Photos by National Park Trust and Susan Sachs Lipman



Family Fun at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Part 1


For most families like ours, summer is the season when time seems to expand. School’s out, days are long and family members visit from around the country to create fond memories and #EveryDayMoments at our treasured local sites.


The San Francisco Bay Area is home to the Golden National Recreation Area, which at more than 80,000 acres, is one of the largest urban parks in the world and the most-visited park in the entire U.S. National Park system. Rather than one park, it’s a group of parks, ranging from Point Reyes National Seashore in the north to the Pfleger Estate in the south. It spans three counties and includes five lighthouses, a famous prison, numerous museums and visitor centers, 91 miles of shoreline, 1,287 plant and animal species in 19 separate ecosystems, 370 archeological sites that reveal the area’s history from the Native Americans through the Gold Rush and the present day, and such iconic areas as Muir Woods National Monument and Stinson Beach (above), Alcatraz Island, and the San Francisco Presidio, home of the Walt Disney Family Museum.

It would take many trips to discover all that GGNRA has to offer. For this trip we decided to focus on exploring San Francisco’s maritime past.


Anna and her cousin Jake started their nautical exploration at San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. Because the park is conveniently located in Fisherman’s Wharf, we combined our visit with a ride on our favorite cable car and enjoyed fresh crab, sourdough bread and other local treats.





We boarded the historic Balclutha cargo ship, where Anna and Jake imagined they were 19th century sailors. This was easy to do – the guide for the daily tour shared fascinating information about the sailors’ tight quarters and grim conditions as they sailed around Cape Horn and up to Alaska to transport salmon, lumber and other goods. Furnished kitchens and sleeping quarters; equipment and rigging; maps, diaries, photos and displays, including the impressive Cargo is King exhibit, which took up the whole cargo hold of the ship, brought the captain and crew to life.







We went aboard other ships as well, including The Cottage, which had been a Marin County summer home. We practiced knot tying and saw on-site ship repair.



We thought we’d quickly stop into the National Park Visitor Center across the street. We had no idea that inside an old cannery building was housed a very thorough exhibit that allowed us to walk through centuries of history of the San Francisco waterfront. Displays and sounds brought to life the Yelamu Natives, the discovery of gold, the raucous Barbary Coast, the Italian and other merchants, and the influx of pre-fab houses which were built south of Market Street, and which we learned came from China by ship.  There was even a display of items that had been recovered from Gold Rush -era ships as new waves of construction unearthed them.





We continued our amazing maritime odyssey down the street at the Maritime Museum, where we saw more items from centuries of seafaring and enjoyed the building’s beautifully restored WPA murals. One of the most amazing things about the day was that, as a national park, Maritime Park is completely free, save the $5 adult price to board the historic ships. The park also offers lots of special programs, including sailing adventures and sea chantey singalongs.


We had such a great time on our maritime adventure. We can’t wait to explore more of GGNRA and our bounty of national parks. In addition to the GGNRA site, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy offers information about activities in the various parks. We’re eager to celebrate the centennial year of the National Park Service, which begins August 25th.

On July 30th, Amex EveryDay is kicking off a contest that encourages people to share a photo and caption of their own #EveryDayMoments, taken at any park, for a chance to win one of three trips to some spectacular National Parks: Lincoln Memorial Park (Washington, DC), Yosemite National Park (California) and Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

Click Here to Enter between July 30th and August 31st: FindYourEveryDayPark; terms apply.

This is part of a larger American Express initiative that will help encourage volunteering in America’s National Parks.


Our adventures will continue in Family Fun at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Part 2.

I am an Amex EveryDay CardMember and Ambassador for this program. However, all opinions about the Card are my own.

 Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

12 Great Activities for Kids to Parks Day + Giveaway


What if you could do something simple that involved beauty and fun, didn’t cost a thing, and  improved every aspect of your and your family’s health and well-being? That something is as simple as visiting your neighborhood or other park, woods, seashore or other favorite outdoor spot.

That’s why National Park Trust has designated Saturday, May 16, Kids to Parks Day. By setting aside one Saturday in mid-spring, NPT hopes to raise awareness of the ease and benefits of visiting a park and foster a connection with our public lands that will lead to lifelong enjoyment and stewardship.

Take the Kids to Parks Day pledge to bring a child to a park on May 16. Everyone who registers will be entered to win a Nikon COOLPIX L830 camera!

What do you do when you get to the park? That part is easy! Here are 12 Great Activities for Kids to Parks Day.


Make a Paper or Cork Boat and Sail it in a Creek

My family first got the idea to make a paper boat from our beloved book, H.A. Rey’s Curious George Rides a Bike, in which sweet and loveable George secures a paper route, which leads him to make and sail a whole flotilla of folded-newspaper boats. Wondering if a newspaper boat could really float, we got out some old newspaper, folded it into boats using the directions in Curious George, and took our boats down to a local creek, where they indeed sailed along once released, on a gently flowing spring stream. You can make your own boat, using any kind of paper. Sail it or race it with others!

Got corks on hand? Make and enjoy a cork raft or cork sailboat.


Blow Bubbles

Bubble blowing may be one of life’s perfect activities. Yes, they provide endless possibilities and inexpensive fun, but bubbles–each a thin skin of liquid surrounding a gas–sneakily illustrate a little science, too.  Read about bubble science here. Perhaps best of all, bubbles can be made using ingredients you probably have around the house. Take a bucket of mix to a park or lawn and enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures. Here’s a recipe for giant homemade bubbles and some fun bubble activities.


Play Pick-Up Sticks with Real Twigs

It’s called Spillikans in Canada, Plockepinn in Sweden, Mikado throughout Europe, and Kau Cim in China, where the sticks were used as a fortune-telling device. Although you could buy a canister of pick-up sticks at a toy or variety store, why not collect your own, at the park, for free? As a bonus, you’ll have fun hunting for good sticks, as well as playing with them. Here are directions for Pick-Up Sticks.


Cook with the Sun

Box ovens employ one of the oldest energy sources of all, solar power. French-Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure was the first to harness the sun for cooking. He used glass to trap heat and create convection while his 1700s peers were still burning mirrors. Anything that can be cooked in a regular oven can be cooked in a box oven. We like to make cupcakes, biscuits, English muffin pizzas, and other items that don’t require long cooking times. Try one of our favorites, Box Oven Pineapple Upside Down Cake.

Learn more about how to make a box oven and cook with the sun.


Whistle with a Blade of Grass

Parks are the perfect place to let time move a little more slowly than usual. Try your hand at some outdoor activities from a slower time that need only the equipment on hand and a little practice. Even, and perhaps especially, a modern child will enjoy the chance to whistle with a blade of grass, make a daisy chain, or skip a stone in a body of water.


Have a Scavenger Hunt or Make a Nature Bracelet

Whether you’re looking for wildflowers with five petals, red birds, or heart-shaped rocks, scavenger hunts get people of all ages exploring and observing in nature.

Nature bracelets also prove that simple is often best outdoors. Making them is a fun and easy way to get kids to look around them and observe small items. Like scavenger hunts, the hunt for nature bracelet items turns an outing into an adventure.


Gaze at the Stars

Outdoor fun needn’t only happen during the daytime. The nighttime offers lots of opportunities to explore constellations of stars and exciting events like meteor showers, which happen often throughout the year. Many parks offer nighttime interpretive programs, and some U.S. national parks have been designated dark-sky parks, because of their excellent star-gazing conditions and educational opportunities.

You can’t help but be infused with a sense of wonder, awe, history and mystery while contemplating the cosmos, as countless people, back to the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and others have done before us.


Play Web of Life

This powerful group game teaches older children about the interconnectedness of living things. We encountered it on a school field trip to a vibrant marsh and have never forgotten it. Learn the rules to Web of Life.


Create Flower Fashions

The earliest May Day celebrations commemorated Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers and spring. Celebrate the spirit of Flora on May Day, Summer Solstice, Kids to Parks Day, or any time, by making lovely floral wreaths, crowns and baskets with materials found in a park or woods.


Finger Weave

Bring your art to the park! Finger weaving is especially portable. Every year, at our annual Girl Scout Camporee weekend, this simple, tactile craft occupied girls of all ages, who wove, chatted, and relaxed in nature.


Make S’Mores

If there’s a barbeque handy, consider firing it up and making everyone’s favorite camping treat, s’mores. The gooey creation has been pleasing people in parks since the first recipe was published in the 1927 Girl Scout handbook, Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts.


Play Classic Outdoor Games

When’s the last time you got a group together in a park for some old-fashioned playground or lawn games? Kids to Parks Day, or any day, is a great time to revive your favorites or learn something new. Games such as Red Light, Green Light, Duck Duck Goose, Mother/Father May I, Capture the Flag, Kick the Can, and the ever-popular Tag, in all its variations have been entertaining people around the world for decades. Here are the rules to these and other classic outdoor games. Try one in a park!

Prize Pack

Register for Kids to Parks Day & Enter the Buddy Bison Prize Pack Giveaway.

In addition to taking the Kids to Parks Day pledge to bring a child to a park on May 16, you can enter my giveaway to receive a Buddy Bison Prize Pack.

The prize package consists of a “Buddy Bison” mascot stuffed animal, 2 National Geographic Books (National Geographic Secrets of the National Parks and National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide U.S.A.), a CamelBak BPA- and BPS-free reusable bottle, a T-shirt, and a NPT Park Activity Guide ($75 value.)

To enter, take the the Kids to Parks Day pledge and then leave a comment on this post, letting me know you took the pledge and sharing your favorite park activity by Friday, May 15, Midnight, PDT. The giveaway winner will be chosen by random name generator and notified by email. The giveaway winner must respond within 48 hours of receiving the email to receive the prize.

Update: Laura has won the giveaway and claimed her prize. Thank you all for participating. Hope you enjoy your outdoor time.

Still looking for more park activities? Download National Park Trust’s Park Activity Guide. Have fun this spring in a park!



These activities are adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more fun family activities.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Public Domain (grass, night sky, web of life), Pass the Cereal (nature bracelet), Virginia State Parks (classic games)

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

National Day of Service at our National Park
Ken Burns’ The National Parks on PBS
Camping Trip: California’s El Dorado National Forest
A Neighborhood Walk Turns into a Hike to Muir Woods








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